The efforts of two students to promote mental health have earned them the accolade of All-Ireland Youth Volunteers of the Year.
Sophie Donnelly, from Wexford town, became passionate about raising awareness of how common mental illness can be after losing her sister to suicide.
After a week of training in 2013, she promoted the message that ‘it’s okay not to feel okay’ with a Walk in My Shoes day at Presentation Secondary School in Wexford, where she sits the Leaving Certificate in June.
She turned 19 on Friday, the day after the 2015 Pramerica Spirit of Community Awards were presented in Co Down by TV rugby pundit Brent Pope.
The other winner was 17-year-old Michael Keohane, who has been involved in numerous initiatives in Skibbereen, Co Cork, including the Skibb Scenes project offering cinema facilities and a social outlet to young people.
The Leaving Cert student at St Facthna’s De La Salle set up supportive workshops around the Skibb Smiles theme, has worked with clients of the Cope Foundation who have intellectual disabilities. He travelled to Romania last summer to work with young disabled adults who had been institutionalised since birth.
Sophie and Michael each received a gold medallion and €1,000 for a charity of their choice, but will have the chance also to meet youth volunteers from across America at the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards in Washington in May.
They were among 20 finalists, who each received €500 and a silver medallion, selected from hundreds nominated from schools on the island of Ireland. The initiative is run in partnership with the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals and the General Teaching Council for Northern Ireland.
Denis O’Sullivan, a student of Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal, in Blarney, Co Cork, and Ian Armstrong from Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, were highly commended in the junior category.
Pramerica Systems Ireland vice-president Andrea McBride said each of the finalists’ stories was remarkable. However, he had special praise for those of Michael and Sophie, who have proved to be wonderful role models and inspiring leaders of the future.
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